The common Herbes de Provence spice blend caught my eye when I realized I’d made sweet treats with many of its ingredients: lavender, basil, rosemary, fennel. As a plus, its thyme, oregano and marjoram were baking additions I’d dreamed of using or were similar to those I’d enjoyed in others’ desserts. This mixture can certainly vary: some versions don’t contain lavender while others include summer savory, for instance. It’s a blend considered typical of the Provence region of southeast France (even if partially for marketing purposes). But from what I’ve seen, Herbes de Provence are always sweet-friendly, with a convenient absence of things like garlic and onion. I decided to showcase my herbs in a shortbread-like cookie with a crisp but tender crumb and a satisfying balance of salt. A tangy element would complement them well, and I reached for something decadent: creamy, bright lemon curd filling. The result is a simple recipe that yields petite but delightfully flavorful thumbprint cookies, flaunting both succulent citrus custard and fragrant, earthy herbs in every buttery bite.
Herbes de Provence Shortbread with Lemon Curd Filling
Makes 20 small cookies 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence 1 cup all-purpose flour 3 tablespoons granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened 1/4 cup lemon curd** Powdered sugar for dusting, optional
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Pulse herbs in spice grinder or crush with mortar & pestle until powdered. Sift powdered herbs, flour, sugar and salt into a medium bowl. Add the soft butter, incorporating it with a fork or pastry cutter until large crumbs form. Then gently knead by hand to form a large, even dough ball that sticks together.
Form cookie balls using a scant tablespoon of dough (15 grams each); you should end up with about 20. Place them on lined baking sheets about 1.5 to 2″ apart. Press thumb or index finger deep into center of each, bracing sides if needed to prevent cracking. Fill each hole with lemon curd to a mounded round; using a pastry bag or plastic sandwich bag with its corner snipped can be easiest.
Freeze filled cookies at least 15 minutes or up to overnight. While cookies freeze, preheat oven to 325ºF. Bake for about 16-20 minutes on center rack in oven. When ready, lemon curd should be puffed up and edges of cookies will be becoming golden brown.
Note that the lemon curd center will stay hot much longer than cookie dough, and will deflate a bit as it cools. Once cookies are completely cool, dust with powdered sugar or top with a tiny pinch of extra herbs. If not serving within a few hours, keep cookies in a closed container, and store in a cool place or refrigerated, eating within 3-4 days. Maybe next time… Generating fewer than two dozen cookies, this recipe is small: a great candidate for doubling, thanks to its common ingredients. For an equally complementary filling, try cranberry curd. Or, for a less delicate/creamy outcome, use marmalade (lemon or orange would be divine). **Lemon curd is available pre-made in jars at many grocery stores, and below is my favorite recipe for a homemade version, which makes much more than these cookies call for. I’ve never found a problem using up extra lemon curd (toast! scones! sundaes! spoonfuls!). And you can always add extra dollops of the custard to the already filled and baked cookies to amp up the lemony punch; just be sure to store and serve them chilled. Alternatively, to cut down the amount of lemon curd below, it’s easy to divide the recipe into thirds, thanks to the number of lemons, eggs and yolks. When dividing this recipe, I find it helpful to remember that there are 8 tablespoons in a half cup, and 3 teaspoons per tablespoon. Also, keep in mind that it may cook significantly more quickly than noted when made in a smaller volume.
Homemade Lemon Curd (makes about 1.25 cups)
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, strained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean seeds, powder, or paste (optional)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
In a medium heatproof bowl such as glass or metal, whisk all ingredients except butter. Set the butter nearby, cut into at least 4 pieces. Set bowl over a pot containing a few inches of simmering water, making sure bottom of bowl is just over the water but not touching it. Whisk constantly, until the mixture is thick enough that a trail can be pulled across it with the whisk without it quickly filling in, about 15 minutes (shorter if recipe is made smaller). Remove bowl from heat; continue whisking occasionally for a few more minutes, then whisk in the butter one piece at a time, letting each piece melt completely into the mixture before adding the next. Push the warm custard through a sieve into a clean container. Cover and refrigerate. Use within a week.
Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind butter, sugar, flowers, where this recipe first appeared. Follow her baking adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.